Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Only Time Will Tell

Photo and story by Penguin Scott

It’s not so much that my past is haunting me as I have gone searching for it lately. It’s an easy task in that access to information on the Internet has made it so. But it’s a heavy task, as the past and how it changes, or my tendency to age, weighs down on the man I have become.

In 1994, I was living in Houston, TX, working a job I enjoyed in a downtown office building. Although I’d not really given much thought to the longevity of this particular job, I felt confident enough in buying a house.

The neighborhood in which I lived was only three miles from downtown. It was right off the Buffalo Bayou, along which I enjoyed taking walks. While not quite part of the area known as the Heights, it was an older neighborhood, fairly well kept up, and I loved living there. Some of the homes had been torn down and in their places were built sturdy, modern town homes, so the area definitely had a lot of life left in it.

What I loved about the house I found a few blocks from my apartment was that it was on a street that shared my last name, Scott. I thought, surely there’s not another Scott living here on Scott St., which gave it extra appeal.

What’s even better was how much I loved the house. My realtor let me in and I fell in love. The home had been updated, including a modern arched wall separating the kitchen and dining room. The detached garage had been converted into a studio with a bathroom and laundry area. The attic was now a loft, for either storage or even an office, except that access to it was up a wooden ladder and not stairs. The yards were lush; full of gardens, shrubs, trees and grass. And at $70,000, it was in my price range.

I wound up moving to Maryland to open a family business and never bought that house on Scott St. But I’ve thought about it often; what would my life have been like had I bought that house and never moved to Maryland? Or at least held on to it and rented it out after leaving Texas.

Last week I got on Google Maps, which has a feature where one can see a street view of almost any address. I’ve used it to see what the houses I grew up in now look like. I found the house I’d lived in as a small boy. The house in which I lived, on Steel St., was second from the corner. On the other side were another four or so houses before the next street. Those four houses were now gone! Currently in their place is an antique mall. But my house, and one on the corner, where Yvette lived, were still there; big, full trees in the yard, which, were I to find old photos, I’m sure were only as big as me when I was in residence.

It was in the bushes between my house and Yvette’s, where she and I would play. And by play, I mean do things little kids are not supposed to do, like lighting matches and figuring out that her physiology and mine were quite different. We were only six. It’s also from these bushes that I first started to watch airplanes flying overhead, noticing the orange bellies of the Southwest 737s approaching Hobby Airport to our south. Quite a few really fond memories still reside there for me.

Steel St. wasn’t too far from Scott St., so after a quiet celebration that my old abode was still standing, I moved the map in search of the house that was almost mine on Scott.

Gone! My house was gone and in its place was one of those monstrosities; a huge modern duplex with garages on the ground floor and living areas on the top two. What’s worse is knowing that they probably sold the house for three times what I would have bought it for. And had I bought it, that could be my profit, not someone else’s.

After letting this settle in for a bit, I thought about the Houstonian Hotel a few miles away. I once worked there with the Secret Service. It was the early ‘90s and George H. W. Bush was president. As such, he didn’t have a home, and used the Houstonian as his official residence. So when he wanted to escape to Texas, this is where he’d come. And in my role as a security officer, I briefed the White House staff and Secret Service special detail agents about the Houstonian grounds. Having all the keys, I was also the one to grant agents and the Bush’s access to closed areas of the grounds after hours, such as the huge fitness center. This is the manner in which I was able to meet George and Barbara, and their framed autographs are now some of my more favorite personal effects.

I was astonished to find the changes made to the hotel and grounds. First thing that I noticed were the old homes along the entrance. They had been leveled in favor of a small office building. And much of the land the property once sat on was given up for homes, now only a stones throw from the hotel. When I worked there, you’d have thought it located in the middle of no where. Trees were all you could see in any direction, save the towering condo building near the entrance to the property. Now there’s a new pool, no wait, two! The old Phoenix Spa was redone and renamed and the hotel lobby is new and rich, for only the most sophisticated of tastes. I guess when they gave up on the grounds they had to enhance the interior.

Another thing the Internet is good for is searching for old friends. There are still a few who I’d love to find, like my best friend in third grade, Robert Pearson. He’s impossible to find, as there seem to be 18 million Robert Pearsons, and I have no idea where he’s settled down.

Thinking that maybe he’d search for me, I created a Facebook account. It started off great, as soon, many old friends from my days in Houston and from high school in Dallas were finding me. I even got friended by an ex girlfriend, who at one time seemed to have me in her sights for matrimony. I took a pass and she landed on some other guy and now has a kid, to boot!

But soon, my current friends started finding me and before I knew it I had nearly 200 friends on Facebook. And it wasn’t just a collection of people, but each and every one was someone that I knew. And some were blood family! And all, it seemed, felt it necessary to comment and to invite me to causes and events. I’d log on and there would be page after page of things to read or to catch up on. Paul is waiting for his flight at the airport. Clara is missing her boyfriend, who’s out of town. Matt just had Chinese food. Emily sent me a flower and wants me to send one back. Joe sent me an invite to the Yuma alien wars game.

So I abandoned Facebook as I simply could not handle knowing all the minutia of things going on with all the people I was connected with on the site. I still keep my profile up, as I do still hear from old friends. And from time to time I still search on it for people I want to reconnect with.

So it is, with my recent quest to relive the past that I got on again and started to search. Besides Robert, there’s an old friend from New Jersey who I’ve wondered about. We used to be like brothers, as good of friends as they ever made. We were well aligned philosophically, both loved the Star Wars movies, had the same family business and became old friends the moment we met while vacationing in the Bahamas.

In 2000, when I changed jobs and moved to California, his communications with me ceased; what I called the great silence. After a few years, the great silence ended and we started talking again, picking up like nothing happened. But then the silence returned, and before you know it, it’s been 6 years since I’ve heard from him.

I typed his name on the Facebook search, and there he was, smiling back at me with his wife and child. Should I be so bold as to send him a note? Should he send me a friend request back? Shall we pick up where we left off? Can I handle more reminders of the years that pass and my slow crawl on the messy floor of aging as my once single friend is now a family?

The note was sent and his friendship request was received, making Vince Facebook friend number 202. As for the rest, only time will tell. And as things around me continue to change in an attempt to constantly remind me that I am getting older, I will continue refusing to act my age!

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